Although Chinese troops are withdrawing from Vietnam, the struggle between the two Asian communist nations is still in its infancy and promises to be as prolonged, and as bitter, as the split between China and the Soviet Union.
Many of the elements of the Sino-Soviet split -- a contested border, rivalry for influence, perceived betrayal and a failure to work out a mutually satisfactory partnership between nations of unequal power -- brought about the deterioration of Sino-Vietnamese relations.
China's Feb. 17 invasion was the first major battle, but it was launched, diplomats here believe, only after Peking had written off any prospects for friendly relations with Hanoi and geared itself for a long confrontation.
Vietnam has made it equally clear that the contest will be long and bitter. While hailing what it calls a victory in resisting China's armies, Hanoi repeatedly proclaims in its official media that "it is certain that the Peking leaders have not woken up to reality."
The next stage is likely to center on prolonged arguments over the Chinese-Vietnamese border.
Vietnam has agreed to border negotiations, but only after China withdraws its troops to the other side of "the historical borderline." Any hopes that such negotiations might begin soon seem threatened by the Hanoi Foreign Ministry's allegation that the withdrawing Chinese are moving border markers. Vietnam is not going to open formal negotiations until it is satisfied that the border markers are as they were before Feb. 17.
Even then, however, China and Vietnam disagreed over small pieces of territory. Chinese Vice Premier Li Xiannian (Li Hsien-nien) told a Japanese newspaper recently that the disputed areas total only about 35 square miles. While Vietnam accepts the borders drawn by Vietnam's French rulers and China in the late 19th century, China wants these small adjustments because it regards this boundary as one forced upon China when it was feeble.
Two Hard Barginers
EVEN SHOULD border negotiations begin, the Chinese and Vietnamese are hard bargaineers, as the world has seen. Talks between the two nations over the ethnic Chinese in Vietnam broke down last year.
In an echo of its position in negotiations with the United States, Vietnam has said: "The Chinese leadership miscalculates if it believes that what it could not obtsin through war it can obtain at the negotiating table."
Vietnam has not relaxed its general movilization since the Chinese withdrawal began and its public statements -- many accusing the Chinese of Killing civilians, destroying border towns and plundering -- are aimed at intensifying anti-Chinese feeling.
Hanoi also has drawn Laos and its new regime in Cambodia into a united anti-China stand. After its own invasion of Cambodia, which brought worldwide denunciation of Hanoi, Vietnam has won back some of its former image as a small nation defending itself against a giant.
China and Vietnam have each made clear they want to cause problems for their adversary wherever the opportunity arises.
China's Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping (Teng Hsiao-ping) has promised Chinese support to the Khmer Rouge guerrillas fighting the new Vietnambacked regime in Phnom Penh.
Because Deng's own statements have made him the architect of the Chinese invasion, Vietnam has called on the Chinese people to remove him from power.
Reports of Peking wallposters questioning the invasion have been highlighted in Hanoi's news media as signs that the invasion has created divisions in China that will affect "the political life of those responisible for the war."
The Chinese are no less eager to press for leadership changes in Hanoi. But the unity of the top Vietnamese leaders has been remarkable in a decade which saw Deng purged twice in Peking.
As when Sino-Soviet ties ruptured, it seems likely that the Chinese and Vietnamese leaders personally involved in events of the last year will have little inclination to forgive. China's decision to end aid to Vietnam and pull out its advisers last summer paralleled the way the Soviet Union treated China.
The late premier Chou En-lai complained bitterly that when the Russians withdrew they took all their plans and blueprints, making it even harder for China to continue projects already under way. It seems unlidely to diplomats here that China had forgotten its own bitterness when it decided to take home its blueprints as well as its advisers.
The Chinese aid cutiff and the reductions in foreign aid by Sweden, Denmark and Australia that followed the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia have put new pressures on Vietnam's already ailing economy.
Hanoi has been unable to integrate South Vietnam since 1975, and faces shortages and ferocious inflation while supporting armies in Cambodia and Laos.
China's rapid drive to modernize could also be jeopardized by continuing military costs, although its resources are much greater.
Knowing the Lesson
DIPLOMATS HERE SAY China is not likely to attempt another major military action soon. It would gain nithing by repeating the limited drive it conducted, and any effort to hold more than tiny border areas would expose the Chinese to constant, wearying Vietnam counterattacks.
The level of conflict will decline, analysts believe, with each nation looking for diplomatic and military ways to inflict wounds.
China will continue its wupport of the Khmer Rouge, hoping to bleed Vietnam's army and economy as the guerrillas have been doing with some success since Phnom Penh fell in January. China also has great capacity for inflitrating small arms or guerrillas into northern Laos, and China and Vietnam could resume small-scale probes across their mutual boder like those that preseded the invasion.
The Communist Party of Thailand is another target of the Chinese-Vietnamese rivalry. Its leadership is aligned with China, but many of its estimated 10,000-12,000 guerrillas have been trained by Vietnamese. Their sanctuaries are in Laos and Cambodia, where they will be in contact with Vietnamese, not Chinese.
The Sino-Vietnamese confrontation ends an era of Indochina politics. China said its invasion was launched to teach Vietnam a lesson. Hanoi already knew the major lesson: that once again it is engaged in a long struggle.